What to do when work sucks

My experience as full-time engineer

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An old mentor once told me that “all jobs suck, but good jobs don’t suck forever.”

Right now, my job kind of sucks, so I thought it might help to share some of the ways I've learned to cope over the last 15 years in good ol' Corporate America.

(And remind myself that quitting isn’t the only option.)

1. Bitch about it. I'm really good at this one. It absolutely does not help my situation at all, but it makes me feel 50% better. I've found that the older I get, the more I bitch, which is somewhat counterintuitive. It’s mostly because keeping things bottled up inside isn't an option for me. (Stuff weighs too heavily on the soul.) I’m always careful about who I use as an outlet, especially with coworkers.

2. Remember why. It’s easy for me to forget all the good things that my job provides. Things like money, self-worth, food, and comfort in knowing there’s another paycheck coming. I threw that all away once and quit a high-paying job to learn the hard way what it’s like out there. In this economy, with a family to support, I’d be a dumbass to not remember all the good things my job does for me.

3. Set firm boundaries. When work starts to severely impact my personal life, I look for ways to contain the problem. I may not be able to prevent myself from thinking about it, but I can say no to meetings after hours, working during lunch, answering after-hour calls, etc. This at least gives me the opportunity to focus on non-work things. I set a firm time, like 4:30 PM, to shut down my computer and stop working entirely for the day. Everything after is personal or family time.

4. Do more happy things outside of work. I’m about as homosapien as they come. I like to socialize, play sports, and tinker with hobbies that bring me joy. A busy work life robs me of these simple pleasures. When it becomes too much, I set my boundaries and make more time for the things that make me happy. This is always important in life.

5. Say “no“ to more work. "I can't right now, I have too much on my plate," has become a staple in my vocabulary.

6. Ask for help. Despite being very good at saying "no", I still have a tendency to take on more work than I can handle. When I'm drowning, I ask my boss for help. Best case, he alleviates some of my workload. Worst case, I have a documented excuse for when I don't get my work done on time.

7. Work from home more. This isn’t something I can do often, but it's an option when things get really bad. The work's still there, and it still sucks, but it sucks a lot less from home, especially when I don't have to drive 40 minutes each way, more with traffic. I realize this isn't an option for some, and I consider myself extremely lucky to have this on the table.

8. Start doing silly shit. Laughter is my coping mechanism. Whether I'm stressed, sad, mad, or frustrated, you can bet I'm going to start doing some weird stuff to make myself or others laugh. Again, it doesn’t solve my problems, but it makes me feel 50% better.

9. Clear some headspace. My current company offers free subscriptions to the mindfulness app, Headspace (it's like they know the job is stressful or something). Usually, a couple of weeks of consistent practice puts me in a better place mentally, at least to the point where my brain doesn’t feel torn in a thousand directions. If I can't commit to a full 5 or 10-minute session, I’ve found that just a few deep breaths help tremendously (the commute to work is actually not bad for this).

10. Go for more walks outside. I have this bad habit of sitting in my chair and plugging away at work for hours on end without breaks. For sure, it’s like I’m trying to hate my job. When I remember, I aim to be more intentional about getting up during the day to take breaks and spend as much time outside as possible.

11. Don't skip workouts. My fitness routine used to be the first thing to go when overloaded at work. Now, I almost never sacrifice my workout time. For starters, it makes me feel somewhat in control of my life. Secondly, I don't have to deal with the self-hate from missing a workout (I can be really hard on myself). And lastly, I'm physically and mentally more capable of handling my work when I keep up with my health.

12. Look for the light at the end of the tunnel. Remember that all jobs suck, but good jobs (i.e. ones worth staying at) don't suck forever. If I know my schedule is going to get less hectic in 3 months, that helps a lot. If it's gonna be more like a year, that sucks but still counts for something. If there's no end in sight, I might want to consider looking for other opportunities.

13. Book a vacation. Vacations never really refresh me or make me suddenly happy to go back to work. They are, however, great for giving me something to look forward to. If I can book a vacation 3 months out to break up the suck, I'm all for it. This works somewhat well as an artificial light at the end of the tunnel.

14. Re-assess. For real. If I’m totally unhappy, I’ve tried powering through, and the deck still seems too stacked against me, I have to start thinking about whether I’d be happier somewhere else. First, I’d look at other internal opportunities (other groups within the same company often operate entirely differently), then hit the external market. I never skip this step. Many people I know stop here and don’t seriously consider a change. They slowly build resentment toward their job and jealousy toward others, which in turn bleeds into their personal life. I refuse to do this.

15. Lastly, quit. The nuclear option ☢️. I don’t quit immediately. Sometimes just having the hope of a potential exit helps to power through, but I will quit if I feel like I’ve exhausted all other options. After some very questionable decisions in the past, I’d never consider quitting again without having something else lined up, or at the very least a buttload of money in my savings account.

Phew. I already feel a good bit better after putting these ideas on paper. Hopefully, they help you too (if and when you need them).